Friday, September 28, 2007

September Goals Update

So, here's how I did on my September goals:

1. Keep a careful eye on medical reimbursements.
Yep. One check was received and deposited this month. I'm expecting the big one any day now, and once I've got that one, I'm almost all the way reimbursed for the money I laid out.

2. $200 to the Freedom Fund
Check. $225, actually.

3. Discuss a raise.

4. Set some money aside for fall clothes.
I bought a few new things; still eyeballing a few more. But, check.


Business Error in Your Favor

I checked my credit card statement today (online), and found a weird discrepancy in which it said I owed less than I thought I did. Turned out there was a peculiar coincidence: an exchange at one clothing site was misprocessed as a return--for exactly the same amount of money as a purchase at another clothing site. Curious, no? The extreme tidiness of the coincidence made it easy to ignore--it was kind of just like getting a sweater and a pair of flats for free, like I'd never paid at all. It was tempting.

But I'd gotten really good customer service around this exchange process--the first dress they'd sent had a defective seam, and they'd sent a new one right away with expedited shipping--that it would absolutely have outraged the conscience to cheat them. It's always easier to make the right call when there's a human face on it, you know? It might have been a little more tempting if it had been the Gap.

I wrote the woman I'd corresponded with about the exchange, telling her to charge my card again.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where Do our Money Personalities Come From?

At times, it just seems like some people are savers and some are spenders. If this is true, I fall pretty squarely in the "saver" camp--at this point in my life. I used to be more freewheeling--like when I was in high school, wielding my dad's credit card with aplomb at bookstores and coffee shops from the Upper East Side to TriBeCa.

But as soon as I was really responsible for myself financially, my attitude changed dramatically. My junior and senior years of college, I lived in an off-campus apartment, and while my parents paid my living expenses, they did so by writing me one check at the beginning of the school year based on a reasonable budget that I'd proposed and we'd discussed. I managed that money for the rest of the school year. I guess if it had ever run out, I could have asked them for money, but I made sure it didn't. I had a job on campus, and I saved every penny I made (it wasn't that much).

My money management skillz were honed even sharper when I got my first job, last September, and began making my own way in the world for real. But there are plenty of people who get their first paycheck and go, "Whee!" and blow it at the nearest boutique. What makes the difference between my reaction and that reaction? I wonder if it's not some personality thing, rather than the oft-repeated platitudes about financial education, because I certainly didn't have much of a financial education. All that meant was that I had to go out and get one.

For me, my desire to manage money wisely is intimately connected to a sense of insecurity, a feeling that I'm on a highwire and I need a safety net, a nervousness about my own ability to succeed. It's also connected to a need to achieve: I get a kick out of setting goals and meeting them, and a thrill from being precociously good at things. There's also a certain cautiousness, a hedging-of-bets, that is not unrelated to the other two: it's a fear of failure.

I'm not saying that there are not very good reasons to save money. Obviously, there are. But are those good reasons my real reasons? I'm not sure they are. I'm not sure it's not all a little less rational than that.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Drink at Home. Duh.

I wanted to have a drink with a friend a couple of nights ago. But I didn't much care where we went, and I didn't want to spend a bunch of money.

So what did we do? We went to the bodega near my house, bought 24-oz. Coronas, cut up some limes, chilled on my couch with our classy, classy beer, and had a chat about King Lear (no, really, we did--and if you have any thoughts about what King Lear is really about, leave 'em in the comments).

And it was awesome. And it so often eludes me, really: wanting to have a drink with a friend does not necessitate a bar, purveyor of markups and facilitator of late-night snacks and taxi rides. A big fat $3 bottle of beer in your own house can be just as much fun. And even if you drink two 24-oz. bottles of beer, that's only $6--about what it would cost for one 12-oz. bottle & tip in a bar. Hard to argue with a 75% savings.

I intend to put this lesson into use more often in future.


Monday, September 24, 2007

The Dangling Carrot

Had my conversation with my bosses. They say that reviews involving money are done at the end of the calendar year, but took a few minutes to give me a rave. And then the carrot was dangled: they think I'm an "excellent candidate" for an assistant editor position, but they like people to be here 15 months before they take that step. Which would, coincidentally or not so, dovetail nicely with the "reviews involving money are done at the end of the calendar year" thing. So pretty much, the deal is, "We're not giving you a raise right now, but we might give you a bigger raise and a more interesting job in three months if you somehow manage to do what is clearly more than one job for the next three months."

So, gratifying comments, disappointing outcome. I didn't do a good job of making my case--I just sort of let them tell me what's what, thanked them for the compliments, and left. Dammit.



My big medical claim was just processed by my insurance company--it popped up on my online claim center--which means that I can start looking for that big fat check in the mail, and start looking forward to re-beefing up the ol' Freedom Fund.

So that's good news.

Other good news: I decided to buy three pairs of tights, a pair of season must-have buckled ankle boots, and a sweater just as a 30% off coupon for the online retailer in question rolled into my inbox.

...and I have a meeting with both of my bosses in a couple of hours to discuss, I guess, my raise and/or potential promotion. And I am terrified. I'm debating forwarding on to them an email I received today from an author about how great I am, but I think that's too blatantly self-aggrandizing, and I'll let it go.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Being Your Own Advocate at Work: A Beginner's Guide

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a co-worker about the fact that her boss hadn't come through with a raise at her semiannual review. They'd given her a glowing review, and then...nothing. No mention of money at all. She was pissed, and I thought she deserved to be. She scrunched up her face, and looked at me, and said, "So, does this mean I have to ask?"

I said I thought it did, and looked at her with empathetic dismay. It's hard to advocate for yourself in any context, but especially at work, and especially if your job is (as ours are) to do what other people tell you to do. I'd venture to say that it's especially hard for women, who tend to be taught that aggressiveness, demands, and bragging are cardinal sins of personality. But those are just the things that you need to harness to be an effective advocate for yourself in the workplace, it seems.

Much of my empathy for my coworker was due to the fact that I have to ask, as well.

I've just passed the one-year mark here, and finally, yesterday, had to ask if we were going to do a review. My boss looked at me blankly and said, "Of what?" (To be fair, we do peer reviews of books all the time, so she may have been confused.)

"" I ventured.

We met today for a pre-review discussion (the real thing will have to include my other boss, who's head of the department, but he's out of town at the moment), and she told me that she's really pleased with my work. I told her one concern was balancing the new editorial work they're giving me with the running of day-to-day operations. She said something about setting accurate timetables and telling people when I won't be able to take things on. I was being a little disingenuous, though, phrasing this as a time-management issue--what I really want is a promotion. I want my little mini-department to create a more genuinely editorial position for me. And eventually I came around to mentioning that--I mentioned all of the other mini-departments that have promoted former assistants (three, at last count), and said that I didn't know if that sort of arrangement was in the works for our department-ette, but if it was, I'd be very interested in occupying such a position. (A little weak on the persuasion and clarity--my technique needs work.)

She said that it wasn't her call to make, but she'd talk to my other boss (who's her boss, too) about it. She didn't seem opposed to the idea, but she reiterated a couple of times that it's not her call. She also advised me a little on what she thought would make an effective argument for this promotion, which I appreciated.

We had a lot of diversions during this meeting, which I think we were using as absorbers of the awkwardness of the rest of the discussion. And we both sort of soft-pedaled the tough stuff. Nevertheless, I think this was a good introductory effort on my part. The first lesson I've learned about advocating for myself in the workplace is this:

Asking is not optional. If I hadn't asked for my review, it might never have happened. If I hadn't mentioned the promotion, it might never have come up. If I don't ask for what I deserve, no one is going to give it to me--they're going to keep giving me increasingly complex projects without ever translating their obvious faith in my judgment into a new title or a salary bump. (Understandable, from a business perspective.) Therefore, I have to ask. I have to. It's not optional.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ours is a Star-Crossed Love, DiorShow Ultimate

I have fallen in love with a mascara. It is DiorShow Ultimate. It is the perfect mascara. I go to Sephora to visit it, to try it on and bat my lashes at myself in the mirrors. It costs $23.

The thing is, I have two perfectly good mascaras--a Rimmel my mother got in a gift bag somewhere, and a better one, from MAC (source of the vast majority of my good makeup). But the DiorShow has them both beat by a mile. It's the holy grail of makeup: you look better without looking like you're wearing makeup at all.

It's just--this is so blatantly something I do not need. At all. Beautiful eyelashes are not a need. No matter what Cosmo tells you. On the other hand, they are a want, and want is a force not to be discounted.

Just when I think I've got myself talked out of this purchase--on grounds of obvious wastefulness, of $23-plus-tax-is-$25-more-for-the-savings-account--want flares up again.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent has managed to articulate exactly what I feel about my financial goals.

I'm impatient. I'm so impatient. I'm lucky enough not to have any debt, but I positively champ at the bit about meeting my savings goals. There are so many things I want to save for: right now it's the emergency/freedom fund, and then I'll want to focus on the travel fund, and after that there'll be a down payment fund of (it seems to me) colossal proportions to tackle. Sometimes I feel so jealous of people like Wanda who can put away thousands of dollars a month, rather than hundreds (and not very many hundreds, at that), because I feel like those people must not have to endure the waiting that I do, the plodding and continuing to plod, the putting one leaden $25 foot in front of the other.

What do I do to stave off impatience?

I break down my goals into mini-goals. Stuff like my monthly savings goals keeps me focused on where my priorities are and gives me the satisfaction of setting and achieving a goal more immediately, rather than always having to be looking at the big, "final" number at the end of December.

I engage my financial goals on a daily basis. This helps me remember that every choice I make with money contributes to meeting my savings goals. When I feel actively connected to my goals, rather than like I'm just sort of passively waiting for them to occur, I'm less bothered by the background noise of impatience.

Mostly, though, I push harder. The last few days of a pay period are always a contest between me and myself to see if I can squeeze another $25 into my savings account. Frequently, I can. And the more often I win that battle, the closer my goal gets. This drive has already led me to bump up the goal for my Freedom Fund twice this year.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disposable Income

For the first time since last November or December, K has to watch what he's spending. The long-term contract he's been working on has come to an end, and other than a paycheck that he thinks (!) he's owed, he's got no money coming in for the next few weeks. He has another job scheduled to start in two weeks, though, at a pretty fat weekly salary, and is confident in his options for work after that, so he's not panicking, but he is going to have to watch himself more than he usually does for a little bit. He returned the iPhone he bought; there's an extra $400, right there (though he spent about the same amount yesterday on the new pair of glasses he's been needing for months and months and finally had a chance to buy). He means to save money for these sorts of inevitabilities--the couple of weeks one spends between jobs as a freelancer--but for whatever reason (believe me, I wish I knew what it is), he doesn't. He's not going to be delinquent on rent or be unable to feed himself or anything, but he's going to have to make conscious decisions about money for awhile.

This morning, leaving the house, I said, "I'm jealous that you get to sleep late." He responded, "I'm jealous that you get to make money."

I wonder if this will change his future outlook. I'm optimistic that it might, I suppose, but then again, he's had these periods before and not altered his behavior afterwards. He knows my help (budgeting & setting up savings accounts & whatnot) is available if he wants it, though, and I'd be super-thrilled if he'd take me up on it. Otherwise, I'm staying out of it and not getting too pushy.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Victory at the Greenmarket

Brothers and sisters, I have come to tell you that it's true: farmer's markets are a great way to save money. The best part is, they're also a great way to feel tremendously luxurious, to take pleasure in your purchases and in your food and cooking.

On Saturday, after brunch with a friend at a local tea room (!), we walked back to my apartment, picked up K, and set out for the Union Square Greenmarket. O bliss! O joy! It was a beautiful day, and the produce was cheap. We got a big bunch of basil for $1, two Kirby cucumbers for another $1, four ears of sweet corn for another $1, four perfectly ripe organic tomatoes for about $2, three beautiful apples (two Macoun, one Fuji) for $1.50, four white peaches for $3, and the best red onion I've ever tasted for $.75. We also splurged, spending $4 on a pound of heirloom tomatoes (nearly the last of the season) and $8 on a little round of a cheese that can best be described as a sheep's-milk Camembert. The cheesemaker sampled me a bite of the Feta, and I was going to go with that (to put on top of the tomatoes for dinner), but once he sampled me the softer cheese, I was hooked, and went with that one instead.

And then, on our way out, there was a special on raspberries and blackberries: 3 boxes for $5! We split the deal with our friend, and took home two boxes of tiny, iridescently sweet raspberries for $3. Glorious.

Dinner was the heirloom tomatoes with thin slivers of red onion (plus sea salt & balsamic vinegar) and the sheep cheese with half of a baguette we picked up at the adjacent Whole Foods for $1.79. Lunch today is a salad of Kirby cucumbers, tomato, red onion (and we've still only used half of it!), and sweet corn kernels. Dinner tonight will be tomatoes with feta (just the grocery-store kind, which I have a chunk of in my fridge), onions, and basil & the rest of the baguette, and dessert will be white peaches. Lunch tomorrow will be a salad of sweet corn & baby spinach. And then, perhaps, we'll be done with our greenmarket bounty.

All this for about $15 apiece! I'm going to look really seriously at making the greenmarket a Saturday tradition, and trying to eat for at least the first half of the week on the produce I buy. Problem is that I'm not very good with your cold-weather vegetables, your squashes and root veggies. But I think the frugality (not to mention the tastiness and eco-friendliness) they dangle like a carrot in front of me (mmm, carrots!) might just be enough to get me trying.


Friday, September 14, 2007


My floor just got a fancy new coffee machine, the kind with the pods and the frothy deliciousness. Previously, there was a coffee machine down on the floor below ours--I've never gotten coffee there, but I'm excited to test-drive this new perk, and see if it will substitute for an afternoon snack sometimes.

Now the things I get free at work are a) books, and b) coffee--if one judged jobs by perks, I'd have one of the best.


Consolation Prize

So, K bought an iPhone. He's wanted one since...well, since before they were invented. It's his Dream Gadget. And with the price drop, he couldn't resist. He didn't take it out of the box, though, because before he could get his sticky fingers on his new toy, he had to make sure he could get out of his half-up Sprint contract.

Which he couldn't. He argued that an increase in text message prices was a materially adverse change that voided the contract, but the retention specialist with whom he was on the phone for forty minutes held firm, arguing that because his text message package was a separate element and not an integral part of his contracted services, the change didn't void the contract. Now he's trying to decide whether to pay the contract cancellation fee ($200) and gleefully rip open the shrinkwrap, or return the beloved object and settle for the 10% discount on his bill plus bumped-up text messaging package the retention specialist offered.

I know what I'd do—stick with my contract, then buy the phone next summer—but that's because electronics aren't a big priority with me. I use a two-year-old phone the size of a double compact (the fat mirrored kind, with a brush inside) with no bells and whistles but a useless camera function, and it doesn't bother me. And I know how it can be, wanting something only to have it moved slightly out of your reach. And I sort of want him to have it—he'd enjoy it so much, and I'd get to poke around with it...

Still, though, for me personally, frugality would win out—I just couldn't stomach paying that fee, and the discount would serve as a consolation prize.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Open Letter to the Bank of America

Dear Bank of America,

You disappoint me.

I've been a customer since my junior year of college, when US Bank decided that holding a check I needed to pay my rent for ransom for three weeks was a good idea. You've treated me pretty well, Bank of America. You give me free student checking even though I am no longer a student. You have many convenient locations. Most of all, Bank of America, you provide the wonders of an online financial aggregator, where I can see all of my accounts (even the accounts not with you!) in one place. I appreciate that, Bank of America. I really do.

But this $3 ATM fee is bullshit. Excuse my language. That plus the out-of-network ATM's fee means that I would pay close to $5 to access my very own money. Money that I've earned, Bank of America, and placed with you for safekeeping. It hardly seems fair.

So I'm thinking of switching to Washington Mutual. They have a location a block from my apartment, no ATM fees, and a high-yield savings account with instant transfers. Bank of America, this might be it for you and me. Consider changing your behavior. If you don't, I don't think this relationship will last much longer than it takes you to deposit my Keep the Change match.

English Major

Update: I do know that this is the ATM fee for non-customers to use B of A ATMs (though I did miss it on first reading). I'm still irked, though, because basically this means that B of A has no institutional objection to a $3 fee, and I think it's a harbinger of fees to come for customers. Currently, B of A charges a $2 "foreign ATM" fee, which is what they used to charge non-customers to use their ATMs. Because of the previous parity in the fee structure, I think there's reason for customers to expect an increase as well--I can't actually tell you that there hasn't been one already, since I haven't used an out-of-network ATM lately.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Charitable Conclusion

So after quite a lot of thought, here's what I did with the $180 I couldn't work up the resolve to donate:

I spent it on clothes.

Well, okay, not all of it. But it is, indeed, all earmarked to spend on clothes for the fall. This will also benefit my savings accounts, because once my new fall stuff is bought, my clothing allotment can start going into savings again, as it was this summer.

I thought a lot about what my commenters said, especially Single Ma's note about the spirit of giving, and I decided to give myself a break for the replenishment of that spirit. With my next paycheck, however, I will get back on the horse immediately, and I will do some research on new recipients for my gifts. Part of what spurred this exhaustion and resentment is being in a rut with my charitable giving.

I will also take this new information into account as I try to work out a giving plan for next year, when I want to have a more concrete plan.


No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

One of the reasons I'm going to get through this week only spending $20 on groceries (other than the fact that I'm working with what I already had in the house) is that I'm being treated to a number of meals. Today I'm eating lunch out on my company, tomorrow it's lunch with my dad and snacks with my uncle at his gallery opening, and the day after, I think my mother and I are going to dinner and a movie.

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. Certainly, there are tradeoffs here--sacrifices I might not be willing to make or annoyances I might not be willing to endure otherwise, like being held accountable for a higher level of involvement in a project, or not telling my father to knock it off with the nonsequitur-heavy interrogation. But chiefly, I benefit enormously from these things--I learn more about my job and can do it better, or I get to chat with my dad, or see my uncle and his new art--all while getting free food!

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Freedom Fund: The Final Frontier (of 2007)

Two more of my medical bills have been processed by my insurance company, but they're not the big ones. I'm waiting for the big ones to roll through, so that I can replenish my emergency savings account.

I keep watching the balance on my Freedom Fund account--I was surprised by how nervous it made me to see that number drop to $450. It really does provide a sense of safety, that little cushion, and I had a sort of free-floating anxiety without it, a sense that I might be caught unprepared for something, though I didn't know what. Now, with the CD rolled in, some of my reimbursements redeposited, and new contributions, it's up to $2,250, and I don't have to hyperventilate, but I'll still feel way better when I can deposit the rest of the reimbursement checks and bump it up above $4,000 for the first time. Exciting!

We're rolling into the final quarter of the year, now, so I have to start thinking seriously about making sure I meet my goals for this year. I was definitely stretching when I bumped my emergency fund goal for the year to $5,000. I should definitely hit it if I get a raise (even just the same amount as I got at my last review), but without that, it'll be a tough milestone to reach (though not impossible). I need to begin giving some thought to where I want my emergency fund to end up, ultimately, but I can get more serious about figuring that out as I get more serious about figuring out what I want to do with the next year or so of my life. (I have a tendency to over-plan--I start to make plans before I really have all the necessary information.)

Regardless of the goals I set for '08, I'm excited about the final push to my '07 goal. I like the challenge of a goal that's high but not impossibly out of reach, and I'm looking forward to the confidence, both in safety and in freedom of choice, that a bigger emergency fund will make possible.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Wedding Weekend Spending

Spending this weekend went quite well--the bulk of my spending was on the taxi out to the airport and on two luxurious room service meals (delivered to the startlingly lovely room K's parents got for us, bless their generous hearts).

Perhaps because we were staying in the city's official Fancy Hotel, I was disappointed in my cocktail-comparison project. Prices at the "upscale" lounge in the hotel's basement (I put this in scare quotes because to my jaded New Yorker's eye it seemed they were trying far, far too hard, and still overlooking somewhat obvious issues--for example, the fact that "lounge atmosphere" and "sports games on television behind the bar" patently do not mix) were comparable to average NYC bar prices, though certainly not comparable to "fancy hotel lounge" cocktail prices. Still, I guess I was expecting a bigger differential, and perhaps I would have seen one if K and I had made it out to the more casual bar with his sister, her husband, and their aunt & uncle after the reception.

I stuck to the free drinks (mmm, chocolate martinis!) at the reception, myself--K and I ended up skipping afterparties on both Friday and Saturday nights, pleading exhaustion (and/or disdain for that hotel bar, and/or need of foot massage in wake of wearing of very painful but very beautiful Lulu Guinness shoes). And because the meals we were eating tended to be so large, there wasn't call for more than two of them a day, only one of which cost us money.

So, I ended up spending $80 for the weekend, though I think I owe K a lunch. I'll be saving $20 extra--but I'm going to use the other extra $20 to buy myself lunch today (and pick up some groceries on the way home). Our flight got in awfully late last night.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Off to Oklahoma

K and I are leaving shockingly early in the morning tomorrow for the wedding, so probably no posts until Monday ( never know when a hotel's going to have free wireless!). I'm withdrawing $100 cash to take with me for the trip...there's another $20 earmarked for wedding stuff should I need it, but I'd love not to, so I'm leaving it in my checking account as a little safety net.

One thing I'm really looking forward to is the opportunity to compare prices. When I get back, I'll tell you how much a cocktail costs in Oklahoma City!


Charitable Ambivalence

I'm embarrassed to admit how ambivalent I am right now about my charitable contributions. I have $180 earmarked for charitable giving right now, and nowhere I feel compelled to put it to work. No Donor's Choose project strikes the right chord; I'm not ready to commit to a political candidate yet; I've given money to my alma mater and to the organizations with which I volunteer already. And then I start thinking, too, about how little $180 is to a big charity, or even a little charity, and how much it is to me. And I start wanting to hang onto that $180, save it, or use it to buy some fall clothing so I don't feel so shabby. I've given $898.45 in charitable contributions this year. That's more than many people give in a year, let alone people my age or who make the kind of money I make.

Feeling this way makes me feel terribly stingy. At the beginning of this year, I felt such an overwhelming sense of obligation, and now I'm reneging? Religious people who tithe don't stop giving when they get tired of it, and that was the model I was originally emulating. There are obligations here--I believe that intellectually and viscerally. And then I start feeling like, look: I give my time (I even take vacation days to volunteer!), I've given $900 this year already, and I need a break. But I also believe that obligations don't come with breaks built in--that you fulfill them because you have to, not because it's fun.

So I'm quite torn. I'd appreciate my readers' thoughts on the subject.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September Goals

And some goals for September:

1. Continue to carefully monitor medical reimbursements.
I called today to inquire as to the status of a claim that I had to resubmit and was told that I need to wait at least another week before they're outside the 30-day timeline. I found this surprising because my previous claim was processed quite quickly. I also submitted a new round of bills (the ones I paid out of the Freedom Fund) for reimbursement, and will need to make sure that those come through.

2. Add $200 to the Freedom Fund.
That's $100 above my autodrafts.

3. Discuss a raise with my bosses
My annual review is coming up in a week or so. At that time, I plan to inquire as to the direction of the sub-department I work with and mention the fact that I'm doing work well above and beyond my job description.

4. Begin setting some money aside for fall clothing
I'm definitely going to need a few new things, so my clothing allotment isn't going to be able to go to the Freedom Fund for awhile.


August Net Worth

My net worth rebounded this month, to $17,929--an increase of 5.11%. I'm $40 away from maxing out my 401(k) match, so after this, it will be slower going, but I still think that I can achieve a goal of $20,000 in net worth by the end of the year.

Pursuant to advice received, I'm counting the insurance reimbursements I'm owed as receivables. Otherwise, the numbers would be artificially deflated. Hopefully, by the next time I do this calculation, that money will all be back in the "cash" category and in my ING account.